|WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS
Series: What A Fellowship - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 19, 2015
How many of you have gone through one of these? Stepping into the booth. Raising our hands in surrender. Or some kind of scanner where we have take off our shoes - our belt - put all our metal in one of those dirty - every one has used it before - plastic trays? And then having to reassemble our lives afterwards. Trying to regain some semblance of dignity.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we had to pass through some kind of scanner when we showed up at church? But, not a scanner for the physical. A scanner that revealed what was going on inside us - at the heart level. Below the surface of how we do church a scanner that would reveal what we’d prefer not to have revealed. Maybe what we don’t even want to deal with.
Wouldn’t that be fun? Maybe we could draw straws to see who goes first.
David writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23,24)
Scan me, O God, and show me what’s really going on in my heart. What’s behind my response to life. What’s behind how I’m living. Deal with the reality of what’s going on in there so I can live the life that you have for me to live.
The reality is that we all show up here with stuff - having gone through a bunch of drama in our week. Which at the heart level can mean all kinds of things that we’re trying to process. Some of you are listening me but your minds are preoccupied with stuff from work or school or family.
We can come depression. Discouraged. Grieving. Lonely. Maybe we’ve succumbed to some kind of addiction and we’re dealing with guilt. Feeling soiled. Trapped. Maybe we’re dealing with health issues or retirement issues or financial issues. Maybe that means fear of what we may be facing.
We could go down a list and sooner or later - most of us sooner - our lives would show up on God’s scan result with heart level stuff.
Why do we come here? Maybe we’ve got a desire to leave with a renewed sense of hope and peace and courage. Maybe God speaks to us through the worship and the word - enough to leave pumped up enough to head back out there and do life. Maybe that comes because we get reconnected with our Christian siblings - people that legitimately care about us - may even genuinely love us. Fellowship.
What are the circumstances you’re dealing with? What is heart level reality for you? How are you doing with all that?
This morning we are going on in our study of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Paul is teaching about fellowship - what it means for us to follow Jesus and for us to follow Jesus together. We are at Philippians 1 - starting at verse 12. Paul is going to share about His circumstances and his heart level attitude in all that. What can be hugely helpful for us to process as we think about heading back out there to do life.
Verses 12 to 18 are Paul’s Circumstances.
Look with at Philippians 1:12: I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,
Let’s pause there so we can catch up with what’s been happening in Paul’s life.
The Church in Philippi was planted by Paul during his second missions trip - between 48 and 51 A.D. What’s shown on this map.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy were making their way through what is now the west coast of Turkey with the idea that they’d go east and into the Roman province of Asia. Paul is given a vision of a man from Macedonia who says to Paul, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” So Paul, and company head to Europe - to Philippi - and there God uses them to plant the first church of believers in in Europe. In Philippi. Some of which we looked at last Sunday. (Acts 15:36-18:22)
Next map. Paul’s third missions trip takes place between 52 to 57 A.D. Notice that it covers pretty much the same places as his second missions trip. Part of which again took him to Philippi - to teach and encourage and strengthen the believers there. (Acts 18:22-21:17)
But there’s a difference. As Paul was concluding his third missions trip - the book of Acts describes Paul as man with a singular purpose. He’s in a hurry - rushing to arrive in Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost. What is the dashed line on the map. In the towns he visits he spends very little time with the believers there. Other towns - like Ephesus - as He’s rushing to Jerusalem - notice that he bypasses some of those town completely.
Along the way a prophet named Agabus prophecies that when Paul reaches Jerusalem he’s going to be imprisoned. As Paul travels towards Jerusalem - along the way - believers pray and weep for Paul. They know - this side of heaven - they’re not going to see him again. In Acts 20, Paul says, “I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead.” (Acts 20:22,23 TNLT)
Imagine - knowing what awaits him - Paul rushes on. He goes to Jerusalem. He’s arrested. Put on trial. Not for any crime. But because of his testimony of the Gospel. Because he’s being faithful to Jesus Christ. As a Roman - Paul - on trial - again with purpose - Paul appeals to Caesar for justice. Highest authority in the Empire.
So Paul is sent to Rome - a prisoner of the Roman Empire. One shipwreck and months later - about 60 A.D. - Paul is under guard in Rome. The circumstances he writes about here in verse 12. “What has happened to me” since I left you to rush back to Jerusalem.
Going on in verse 13 Paul describes what’s happening in Rome. so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
The Imperial Guard - in Greek the word “imperial” is “praitorio” - meaning “praetorian” - which was a select group of soldiers - the best of the best - exclusively set aside to guard Caesar. Probably, because Paul appealed to Caesar these soldiers were assigned to guard Paul. Historically - the way they probably did that was in four hour shifts. Four times a day the guard was changed. 24/7 these elite soldiers were stuck with Paul.
Ponder that. Wouldn’t that be a trip? Imagine in heaven there’ll be a sign-up sheet - or an app or something - to sign up to get chained to Paul for 4 hour shifts. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Just think about the questions you’d ask. The things we could learn.
We know - or at least we can be really really certain - that Paul was not silent during those shifts. He tells us that he’s seeing this whole imprisonment as a God thing. “Imprisonment is for Christ.” Its “served to advance the gospel.” Day after day - the Praetorian Guard and everyone else heard about Jesus - heard the gospel. Many came to trust in Jesus as their Savior.
Paul goes on - describing his circumstances - verse 14: And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Sometimes we have this knee jerk reaction. We feel the Spirit prompting us to say something about our faith or to ask about how someone is doing spiritually. And we seize up. Ever have that happen?
All kinds of possible reasons for that. “What if they ask a question I can’t answer?” Or, “I don’t have the time right now to get into a discussion about all that.” Or, “They’re really going to be offended if I say something.” Whatever. We freeze.
Imagine being in the Roman Empire - or some place in the Middle East today - where speaking up could cost us our lives. Or some places here in the US where speaking up could cost us our job. Maybe our reputations. Maybe we loose some ground on what people think of us. Might make us hesitate just a tad. Yes?
Paul writes that as these brethren and sistren - because he’s writing about all the believers in Rome - as they’re watching Paul and what’s happening with Paul and what God is doing through Paul - they’re getting more confident - more bold. Literally the Greek reads: “to a much greater degree they are daring to speak the word of God without fear.”
“With all that’s happened to Paul - if Paul can stand firm for Jesus in his circumstances we can share Jesus in ours.”
We know this. Sharing our faith isn’t something gets defaulted to the guy up front who has a degree in theology - the professional who’s suppose to know this stuff. Like somehow God can’t use us unless we’ve been to some Christian Bible University and seminary to get our Bachelors and Masters and a Doctorate in theology and apologetics and philosophy - and have years and years of experience in pastoral ministry - and then - just maybe - we might be able to share with the guy next door that Jesus loves them.
The Bible - Jesus - commands - not just suggests - but commands every one of us to be involved in sharing Jesus with others. Every gift - every role - every person is crucial in that. Regardless of our circumstances.
One of the great joys of fellowship - of being siblings together in Jesus - is that we get to encourage each other and build each other up and work together - learning from each other - even seeing the examples of others like Paul or ordinary civilians like us in our fellowship sharing in places like where we do life - so that as we go along - to a much greater degree we become more daring to speak the word of God without fear. If they can do it we can do it.
It seems like that is what was happening in Rome. In Paul’s circumstances people were coming to Jesus and those coming to Jesus we’re growing in boldness to share Jesus with others.
Verse 15: Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
Two groups - newly emboldened - two groups are sharing the gospel. In group one - some of these newly emboldened brethren and sisteren were using Paul’s confinement as an opportunity to promote themselves.
It seems they were envious - jealous - of Paul’s gifting and how God was using him. They were in Paul’s shadow. So, this was their opportunity. They attacked Paul - stirring up strife - discord within the Christian community - hoping to gain a greater following for themselves.
Which is hard to imagine. Sounds harsh. Except it happens. Doesn’t it? Biting the hand that feeds us. Getting too big for our britches. We start feeling pretty good about ourselves and where we think we’ve arrived and we forget how we’ve gotten there. The student suddenly thinks he knows more than the teacher. Pride verses humility.
We can fall into the trap of doing this. Small side comments about someone’s ministry when they’re not there. Comments about a pastor - a leader - someone else in the church. An authoritative sounding, “I don’t agree with so and so” - as if to prove that we have a greater understanding.
Its not that what any one of us - or any of the people in Paul’s day - its not that what they were saying is wrong - heretical. Paul commends them for preaching the gospel. But, pride is ugly. The motivation was selfish. Its not hard to imagine how this first group could have deeply hurt Paul. Rejection at the heart level.
Others - group two - Paul writes - shared the Gospel with pure motives - with pure hearts. With sincerity. With unselfish motivations. Their response to Paul and his imprisonment was out of love and respect. God was using Paul. God was using them. Humility verses pride. Its not hare to imagine how group two would have encouraged Paul. Kudos at the heart level.
Its not hard to imagine there might be a lot of confusing emotions - Paul trying to process all that’s happened - is happening to him. The cruise to Rome was rough. Being imprisoned is still being in prison. Some of Paul’s disciples have turned against him. That’s rejection. Some are serving with him.
Paul’s summary of his circumstances comes in verse 18: What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice...
The bottom line is that none of this is about Paul. Paul’s emotions - his response to his circumstances - isn’t based on his circumstances or what people think about him or what he thinks people think about him. Which is a trap we can fall into. What matters is that the gospel is being preached. People are coming to Jesus. Followers of Jesus are following. I am rejoicing in what God is doing and I will rejoice. Meaning - what God is going to do is going to make me rejoice even more.
Verses 19 to 26 reveal Paul’s Attitude.
How - in the midst of what Paul has gone through and is going through and probably will go through - how is it that Paul is rejoicing? Rejoicing being an outward action - what bubbles up from a source deeper within - at Paul’s heart level. How can we rejoice in our circumstances?
Paul sharing about his heart level attitude in all that. What can be hugely helpful for us to process as we think about heading back out there to do life.
Paul’s attitude - heart level reality - verse 19: for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
“Know” - the Greek word here isn’t about knowing things emotionally or because of warm fuzzy experiences. “Know” is about cold hard immutable facts. Unchangeable reality. I know at the core of who I am that is reality and it will always be reality. Absolute truth.
Paul knows what? God is in control. Do you see that?
I have every expectation that God is going to make this work out the way God wants - according to God’s purpose for my imprisonment. God is sovereign over my circumstances. You all are praying for it. God is the one who’s going to make it happen. I’m living with courage - boldness - eagerly looking forward to what that will look like. I know I’m not going to be ashamed by it. Meaning that when it all comes down I’m not going to regret that I trusted God.
Let’s be careful. Deliverance can mean release from prison or release from life. Paul’s expectation is that regardless of which is God’s will - life or death - Christ will be honored - celebrated - lifted up - glorified - His purposes accomplished whether Paul is alive or dead.
Because Paul knows - at the level - attitude to approach life with - that life is about God not Paul. Meaning we can rejoice regardless of our circumstances when our lives are not based on circumstances but God. God’s plan. God’s purposes. God who is sovereign.
Paul puts all that bluntly - his bottom line attitude behind all that rejoicing - bottom line - in verse 21: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. In Greek its even more emphatic: “To live Christ. To die gain.”
We really need to be clear on this.
Jesus - God the Son - creates creation. God wills. God the Son creates. We all are creation not THE Creator. Meaning we all are created out of the dust of the earth. The stuff of creation that Jesus created out of nothing. Even our stuff wouldn’t be stuff if it wasn’t for Jesus. Every breath. Every heart beat. Every anything that is us is because of Jesus. We live because He wills us to live.
But Paul is talking beyond physical realities. We wouldn’t exist spiritually if it wasn’t for Jesus. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting… life. He who has the Son has the life. To live is Christ begins when we turn our lives over to Him and trust Him alone as our Savior.
To live is Christ means to die to self - to our self-focused arrogant assumption that our existence is about us. What Jesus means when Jesus says that to follow Him is to take our cross and follow whatever the circumstances - meaning probably suffering - maybe death. What Jesus meant by loosing our lives in order to find the life that God intends for us. Death to self. Letting go of every pretense of pride and ego and self. Killing it so its dead... and stays dead. Daily that’s trust in the Lord at the heart level and not relying on our own understanding of things. But being filled with the Spirit - directed by the Spirit. Life is about… God. Jesus.
A Muslim would never say, “For me to live is Mohammed.” A Buddhist would never say, “For me to live is Buddha.” Or a Hindu, “For me to live is Krishna.” Or Joseph Smith, or Mary Baker Eddy, or anyone else. They’d have to look at their scriptures or rules of conduct - manuals of meditation - visit a temple or a mosque. Go through some prescribed rites or rituals..
The bottom line attitude of living the Christian life. “To live Christ. To die gain.”
Hear this: There’s no greater priority in life than trusting Jesus as the Savior. There is no greater purpose in life than knowing Jesus Christ - even if pursuing Christ means death. The pursuit of anything else - any other priority is worthless. There’s no greater purpose in life than to exalt - to lift up - to proclaim - Jesus the Savior and Lord. Life is about Him. Not us. That priority and that purpose never changes - regardless of the circumstances. Not for Paul. Not for us.
Sometimes we can fall into the mindset of expecting God to be like Santa Claus. He knows who’s been good or bad. If we’re good he gives us stuff - blessing our lives with good health and happiness. Especially in this country with all that we have. We come to expect that all this is for us and we deserve it. This is the way its suppose to be. Christians are God’s people.
As long as things are going right we think that we’re doing what God wants and God is blessing us. Just do enough of what it means to be a Christian and God will bless you.
But, when God allows circumstances of adversity in our lives - lemons - we start to loose faith - to question God and ourselves. When we turn towards God and we get hammered by our Adversary we start to question our choices. We’re tempted to feel like we’ve failed spiritually. We’re doing something wrong. We’re out of God’s favor - out of His will. In adversity God is against us. We’re tempted to complain. To try to find our own answers to our circumstances. It so easy for us to loose focus.
There’s an account that maybe you’ve heard. George Atley was killed while serving with the Central African Mission. There were no witnesses. But the evidence indicates that Atley was confronted by a band of hostile tribesmen. He was carrying a fully loaded, 10-chamber, Winchester rifle and had to choose either to shoot his attackers and run the risk of negating the work of the mission in that area, or not to defend himself and be killed.
When his body was later found in a stream, it was evident that he had chosen the latter. Nearby lay his rifle - all 10 chambers still loaded. He’d made the supreme sacrifice, motivated by his burden for lost souls and his unswerving devotion to his Savior. With the apostle Paul, he wanted Christ to be magnified in his body, “whether by life or by death.” (1)
Death reorientates how we live life. A corpse isn’t concerned about dying. Someone who’s died to self isn’t concerned about physical death. He’s only concerned about what it means to live in Christ.
Paul’s heart level attitude that’s shaping his actions and his emotions - his response and choices in his circumstances - all that isn’t about Paul. Paul’s concern is not what happens to him. But the testimony of Jesus. Life or death is about Jesus. Live or die is about what God wills.
If we really can get that at the heart level that one bottom line truth will transform everything about how we live life.
Paul goes on to put that truth into context of real life. Verse 22: If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
“Hard pressed” - verse 23 - translates a Greek word that has the idea of “This is really tearing me up.” Its like getting stretched out on the rack and getting pulled in two different direction at the same time. Something that tears us apart at the gut level.
Continued life and serving God or death by execution in Rome. Paul saw both of those as being good choices. We tend to cling to life. But Paul describes death as a departure. What Paul describes as being “far better” than here. A release from the illness and struggles and issues and drama of this life. Being with Jesus is infinitely better than being here. That’s the whole goal - the payoff - the inheritance that we’re all living in hope of. Rest from labors. Joy of eternal fellowship in the very presence of Jesus whom he loves.
The word for “desire” has the idea of passionate longing. Ever felt that way? Just thinking about current events and the world we live in coming apart at the seams or the drama of our lives - don’t you long for the return of Jesus? To be in eternity with Him. John’s plea at the end of Revelation. “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen? Passionate longing. Desire. (Revelation 22:20)
And yet, being here means living out God’s purposes for our life. Huge and amazing opportunities to reach more people with the gospel. To be at the nexus of God bringing more people to salvation. To be used in the lives of the Philippians - Mercedians - siblings in Jesus that Paul deeply cares about. There are some amazingly wonderful things about living life here with God.
Paul writes - verse 22 - “Which shall I choose I cannot tell.” Can’t tell or won’t tell? He can’t tell because the choice isn’t his to make. Its God’s. But hear his heart attitude: Live or die Christ is glorified. I rejoice.
We’re together? Whatever circumstance of life we’re in - whatever choices we need to make in those circumstances - how we process all that - how we move forward through all that - the beginning point of dealing with that circumstance is not about us but about God. Death to self. Life because of Christ alone.
Processing all that - two questions.
First: How’s your attitude?
A short video. See if you can relate to this?
Can we relate to the drivers? Or standing in line at the market? Or any other circumstances where our little trinity of me, myself, and I is getting pushed?
Imagine having someone chained to you for 4 hours. That’s pretty intimate - pretty intense. Especially if the circumstances were adverse. What would they learn from you or about you? What would you talk about? Would you gripe or complain? Would you rejoice? Would Jesus be exalted? Would the progress of the Gospel be moved forward?
How is your heart level attitude? To live Christ. To die gain. What are you intentionally doing to make that truth a reality in your life?
Question two: What’s your desire? What is it in life that you’re really passionate about?
A few years back I was visiting with an elderly lady in the hospital. A woman who was a sister in the Lord in the true sense of that relationship. She was hours from death. She knew it. I knew it. God knew it. She knew Jesus as her Savior. She had confidence. No questions about where she would spend eternity.
We talked about her family. Her concern for her family. Not all of them knew Jesus. Over the previous months - in the time that God had allowed her to stay - she had been even more intently focused on sharing her faith with them.
Paul faces death. To die would be to gain more of Christ - to be with Him. But Paul remains. God still has work for him. It is necessary for the Philippians that Paul remain to encourage and disciple and embolden them in their service for Jesus Christ.
Adversity gives us greater opportunity to refocus on helping each other as we live for Christ. In adversity we’re here for each other.
If death were an immediate possibility how would you live? Would facing death alter our commitment to each other - our pursuit and purpose? The reality is that we have no idea if we have 3 months or 3 minutes left. We do know that - in these circumstances - because we’re here we have work to do.
In the time that God gives you what do you desire to see take place? How will you passionately invest the time God gives you? Who or what will you invest that time in?
1. Our Daily Bread
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.